Hypnotic soundscapes by Icelandic cellist.

Hildur Guðnadóttir

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If you happen to come across a cello with a whole array of pedals and other electronic gadgets, chances are the owner is Hildur Guðnadóttir, an Icelandic cello player and singer who has been manifesting herself at the forefront of experimental pop and contemporary music (e.g with the band múm). In her solo work she draws out a broad spectrum of sounds from her instrument, ranging from intimate simplicity to huge soundscapes. At the Bimhuis, Guðnadóttir will play two works on newly developed electric cellos: one utilising feedback and one which is connected to wooden sculptures causing them to vibrate along with the music. The main piece she will be playing is the title work of her latest album Leyfðu ljosinu; a multi-layered, hypnotic sound construction consisting of vocals and cello, which gradually swells to massive proportions.


vocals, cello
Hildur Guðnadóttir
Halldór Úlfarsson
ontwerp, suround cello en klanksculpturen
Hans Jóhannsson

Gudnadottir takes a cello and a gentle voice and, through software manipulation, scales simple phrases up to dcelestial heights.

The Wire

background information

In a small circle of light on a dark stage, sandwiched between an amplifier and a table with a laptop, surrounded by effects pedals, is a young woman with a cello. It is a surprising image, which intrigues because of the unusual combination of elements. The young woman is the Icelandic cellist and composer Hildur Guðnadóttir (1982). In 2012 she released her thrid solo album Leyfðu ljósinu, which was received with unanimous praise. At the Holland Festival she will be performing Leyfðu ljósinu live at the Bimhuis, plus two new compositions for two very unusual instruments.

Guðnadóttir studied cello, composition and new media in Reykjavik and Berlin, while also exploring pop and experimental music. She is known for her collaborations with a number of bands, including Pan Sonic, múm and The Knife, and with the American composer Nico Muhly. She is also a member of Stórsveit Nix Noltes (Nix Nolte's Big Band), which has a rotating cast of 7 to 10 Icelandic musicians playing traditional Bulgarian and Greek dance music. The band were the supporting act for Animal Collective's American tour.

On her debut album Mount A (2006), a remastered version of which was released in 2010, Guðnadóttir proved to be a true multi-instrumentalist: as well as her cello and laptop she also played the harp, vibraphone and the viola da gamba and sang, building a dark soundscape from repetitive patterns. For her second album Without sinking, released in 2009, she worked with renowned Icelandic musicians such as jazz bassist Skúli Sverrisson and composer Jóhann Jóhannsson. On her third album she went solo again, this time with only her cello, her voice and her laptop.

Leyfðu ljósinu, less serene than its predecessors, is a fascinating album. The Icelandic title translates as 'let in the light'. This sounds like an incantation, an impression which is reinforced by the music. The album contains only two tracks: a four minute long Prelude and the title track, which is 35 minutes long. The album was recorded live in a studio in 2012, at the Music Research Centre of the University of York – without an audience, naturally, but also without any significant post production or the separate recording of other other instruments or voice. What you listen to is what Guðnadóttir has produced over the course of 40 minutes with her cello and her electronics in front of three microphones – that is all there is to it. This 'live at the studio' way of working, which is nowadays usually only used in jazz and classical music, suggests a certain artistic integrity: no tricks, no masquerade; it is what it is.

The tempo on Leyfðu ljósinu is almost invariably low. The Prelude consists of no more than a few low strokes, separated by long pauses. The title piece starts out with Guðnadóttir's delicate alto over a subtle drone; slowly she sings two tones and repeats the interval for minutes on end. She makes a loop of her voice and subsequently sings long tones over them. In this way she also builds her cello part into a layered sound construction of sonorous, mainly low, electronically modified strokes, a texture which has a hypnotic effect and gradually swells to massive proportions. Carefully Guðnadóttir works her way towards the end, which with its fast stroke and nervously climbing line creates a sobering effect. Through the years, the soundscape composition has built up a respectable history to which Guðnadóttir has added an imaginative and lively chapter withLeyfðu ljósinu.

As well as Leyfðu ljósinu, Guðnadóttir will also perform two multidisciplinary sound installations. The Icelandic violin maker Hans Jóhannsson has built a surround cello for her, an instrument which does still refer back to the age old tradition of violin making, but which is first and foremost very 21st century: a creation combining art, architecture and physics. This cello has various resonating wooden bodies, strangely shaped, beautiful sculptures which make this installation not only an acoustic experience but also a feast for the eyes. The third work Guðnadóttir will play is on a Halldorophone#5, a very special cello with an electronic feedback system which was developed by the Icelandic artist and designer Halldór Úlfarsson.

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